Hunger History Lesson: Victory Gardens

“Food will win the war.” – President Woodrow Wilson

It’s bitterly cold here this week. And I don’t know about you, but that makes me dream of spring. Or vacation, but I digress…

Thoughts of spring lead naturally to thoughts of gardening. I can’t start seeds indoors for at least another month or plant outdoors for at least two months, but I’ve started thinking about what I’ll plant this year, and from there my mind wandered to Victory Gardens.

During the First World War, food production dropped as young men volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military. At the same time, the armed services’ need for food skyrocketed. To combat this, people were encouraged to plant gardens, which reduced the domestic demand for produce. Reduced demand led to lower prices for the government buyers.

In addition to the practical benefits, gardening also gave citizens an outlet. As they tilled soil and pulled weeds, the families left at home could feel like they were participating in the war effort. In the United States, the War Garden Commission was formed, and some really interesting propaganda was published. Expressions like “Dig on for Victory!” or “Food Will Win the War and Write the Peace!” encouraged the belief that gardening was a valuable way to make a difference.

When the world found itself embroiled in another war just twenty years later, war gardens took the spotlight again. Certain foods and supplies were rationed during the war, but growing one’s own produce ensured that it would be available. Agribusinesses, government agencies like the Department of Agriculture, and county agencies published pamphlets and created educational short films and held classes to teach gardening basics.

Victory gardens can inspire us today.
– Gardening is good for the environment. Plants produce oxygen, and flowering plants support valuable pollinator species.
– Gardening saves money. A packet of seeds can produce a whole basketful of fresh produce, and saving seeds from veggies that you grow or buy is free.
– You don’t have to be a farmer to grow a garden. A suburban backyard or even planters on an apartment patio can produce a crop.
– Gardening allows you to control the fertilizers and pesticides in your food.
– If you want to start gardening, the old victory garden educational films are on YouTube. Just be careful taking 1940s advice about pesticides…

You too can “sow the seeds of victory!”

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